My previous Chillicothe visits included: seeing Tecumseh! the outdoor drama, writing about a restaurant for Ohio Magazine in 1998, visiting two donut spots and picking up the vanity at Lowe’s (the only one in inventory for the whole state). Back when I was a government drone my job often took me to the Chillicothe Veterans Administration Hospital (which has roots going back to World War I) but duty to fix problems and ethical responsibility did not allow me to take side trips to explore the area. I never really explored the city or the downtown. Considering Chillicothe was once a state capital and it is fun to say and more importantly considering all of the other places in the state I have explored on a whim, Chillicothe was overdue for an extended trip.
I’m not sure of the exact series of searches that popped Carl’s onto my laptop screen but it was probably related to doing a search related to Family Donut Shoppe. I’m glad I did pay attention to Carl’s and felt the pull to make this my reason to head south. I enjoyed driving the streets of downtown Chillicothe looking at many 1880’s era buildings and small local shops while searching for Carl’s.
I scouted out Carl’s on various review sites and found almost universal love for the place and in particular their burgers. I lured along one of my research assistants, the grumpy old man, with promises of a trip to Family Donut Shoppe afterwards as well as a recon trip to McArthur Ohio. Within moments of arrival to Carl’s the grumpy old man was also pleased. Carl’s is the kind of diner that every community needs. A simple place with straightforward food where regulars come to catch up with each other as well as the events of the day. More diners could help Make America great again.
Having a research assistant allowed me to do extensive food research. I’ll start with the hamburgers. The trademark menu item here are slider style hamburgers. The burgers were much bigger and thicker than a White Castle slider. Students of hamburger history (such as myself) would recognize this as the typical burger of the 1940’s – 1960’s. Neither too big nor too small with a lumpy instead of perfectly formed patty and when paired with fries, a very satisfying meal. The burgers are great and I highly suggest them. I ordered the double cheeseburger basket (two double cheeseburgers and fries).
As a student of hot dog history as well as a staunch hot dog advocate, I ordered a chili dog to boot. I was pleased with the presentation here. The bun was lightly grilled, the hot dog was split in the middle to aid grilling as well as chili retention. The chili was definitely homemade with a distinct flavor to it. Overall it was better than average.
The grumpy old man ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich. I was happy to see this on the menu. Many years ago I did extensive research on regional sandwiches around the USA for a book project. I spent a week traveling around the Midwest trying out the best pork tenderloin sandwiches in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois which is the heartland of this regional delicacy. I found this version true to style. It was properly breaded and sufficiently – as is the tradition – much bigger than the bun it was served on. More points for Carl’s.
My favorite item of the lot was also my biggest surprise. I saw apple strudel written on the specials board and ordered that out of curiosity. It turned out to be Apple Strudel Pie! Even the grumpy old man, with his girl-like appetite, found room to take a bite and found it pleasing to the palate as well.
One of the things that makes Carl’s a destination is the character of the place which comes from a long history in the community. When I work with clients, I often share with them how important sharing the history of a business is to customer loyalty. Carl’s does a great job in this category by sharing their history on the menu. As a local landmark, this is important, so I photographed that history to share with you below.
To wrap it all up. Carl’s is an iconic diner that dishes out breakfast, lunch, dinner and an extensive list of daily specials at affordable prices. If you find yourself in Chillicothe, this is well worth a visit. If you have a few extra minutes walk across the street to the antique shop and see if this trinket is still around. Even though it was $375 I was very tempted to take it home with me. If you are not familiar with the gentleman below, it is J. Wellington Wimpy. A personal hero of mine with an even greater affinity for hamburgers, he is best known for his insightful philosophy, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” If you fetch Wimpy for me today, I’ll gladly pay you back with a burger on Tuesday.